Governor Presents Medal of Valor to 17 CAL FIRE Firefighters Award is California's Highest Public Servant Honor


Sacramento - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today awarded the distinguished Governor's Medal of Valor to 17 CAL FIRE employees for acting above and beyond the call of duty. The firefighters received the Medal of Valor, the highest honor that California bestows upon its public servants, as part of a ceremony recognizing 38 state employees.

"The men and women we are honoring today have all demonstrated extraordinary courage and risked their safety, and even their lives, without hesitation to save another," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "On behalf of all Californians, I extend our gratitude and appreciation for their selfless service."

"These individuals represent the high caliber of men and women we have working for CAL FIRE," said Chief Ken Pimlott, acting director of CAL FIRE. "I take great pride knowing they responded above and beyond the call of duty, upholding the most sacred principle of this honorable profession in risking their lives to try to save others."

Ron Eldridge of Auberry and Craig Tolmie of Prather
On February 25, 2010, CAL FIRE Fire Captain Specialist Ron Eldridge and Assistant Chief Craig Tolmie were serving an interagency search warrant when the suspect opened fire from inside his residence, wounding and trapping a detective on the front porch.

Captain Eldridge put his life on the line when he saw the wounded detective was caught on a fence as another officer attempted to drag him to safety. Eldridge left his position of cover and helped free the injured detective, then medically assessed him while still under fire from the suspect. Sadly, the detective's wounds were fatal.

Chief Tolmie was positioned behind a vehicle parked directly in front of the suspect's residence when he heard a Deputy call out for a bandoleer of shotgun ammunition that was located inside a patrol car. At great risk to himself, Tolmie left his position of cover to retrieve the bandoleer and another shotgun, and delivered them to the Deputy.

Alfredo Danny Suarez of Atwater
On May 1, 2010, while responding to a residential structure fire, CAL FIRE Fire Captain Danny Suarez was informed by a bystander at scene of a person's possible whereabouts inside the burning structure. Without hesitation Suarez advanced into the structure and navigated through the residence into a back bedroom where he found a female lying on the floor. Suarez dragged her back to the front door and initiated patient care until an ambulance arrived.

Frank Abril of Hemet, Eric Connolly of Riverside, Adam Ricketts of Carlsbad, Dave Deleon of Los Angeles, Antonio Medina of Delano, Chuck Santone of Canyon Lake
On September 19, 2009, the crew of CAL FIRE Copter 301 was assigned to battle hotspots on a rapidly spreading brushfire in Riverside County when they learned of a lady nearby who was trapped in her home and surrounded by fire. The crew quickly located the 84-year old fire victim and provided her with blankets to shield her from the flames. At great personal risk to themselves, the firefighters lead the victim through the fire and nearly blinding smoke conditions to a safer location where she was passed to a United States Forest Service fire engine.

Rickey Lee Gibble of Reedly, Steven Wayne Blythe, Jr of Newman, Kyle Joseph Efflandt of Santa Clarita, Ryan John Hollowell of Sacramento
On May 22, 2008, while assigned to the Summit Fire in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties, the engine crew onboard CAL FIRE Engine 1675 was requested to search for a previously evacuated resident who was last seen running up the driveway to his residence. When the crew arrived at the driveway, the flames were so intense that they could not drive any further. Exposed to intense heat and smoke, and with nearby propane tanks blowing up in ground-shaking explosions, the crew retreated only after a thorough search of the area and repeated attempts to locate the resident.

Rhett Imperiale of Hydesville, Kurt Mccray of McKinleyville, Len Nielson of Fortuna, Mark Rodgers of Loleta
On July 25, 2010, while on a routine fire prevention patrol, CAL FIRE Forester Rhett Imperiale observed fresh skid marks on a section of Highway 96 known as "The Gorge." With the help of a responding United State Forest Service Officer, Imperiale descended the treacherous slope and located an upside-down vehicle with two badly injured victims approximately 200 feet below the roadway. Imperiale extricated the trapped victim from the vehicle, moved both victims a safe distance away and administered first-aid until other help could arrive.

When CAL FIRE Foresters Kurt Mccray and Len Nielson, and Fire Captain Specialist Mark Rodgers arrived at the scene of the accident, they had to act fast due to the seriousness of the victim's injuries and the potential danger of the oil leak. They descended the dangerously steep slopes and used their own bodies to protect the victims and other rescue personnel from falling and rolling rocks. It took approximately 2 hours to secure the patients and move them up to the highway.

The Medal of Valor, which started in 1959, is the highest honor that California bestows on its public servants and is awarded to California state employees who have performed an extraordinary act of heroism above and beyond the normal call of duty, at great risk to their own personal safety or life, to save the life of another.

Photographs are available by request. Please email Daniel Berlant at



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